Zimmermann Requiem fuer einen junge dichterAlthough the towering figure of Karlheinz Stockhausen now dominates the landscape of German art music in the 1960s, one of Germany’s most promising composers in the postwar period was Bernd Aloïs Zimmermann. Zimmermann’s Die Soldaten revolutionized German opera, introducing mass media elements and incorporating structured improvisations akin to free jazz; cutting edge opera in Germany had basically lain dormant since Alban Berg set aside his opera Lulu in 1935, never to return. “When Bernd first submitted Die Soldaten to me in 1958,” recalled conductor Michael Gielen in 1985, “I immediately handed it back to him because there were no barlines in the score. ‘You can’t stage it,’ I told him, ‘without barlines and cues you cannot keep the production in one piece.’ So he took it back and spent the next three years adding the barlines. When he was done, of course I was happy to conduct it.” The premiere, however, didn’t occur until 1965 when Die Soldaten was finally produced by the Cologne Opera.

Zimmermann Die SoldatenOver the years Die Soldaten has slowly found a foothold in semi-standard opera repertoire and remains Zimmermann’s most celebrated achievement. However, many view Zimmermann’s Requiem für einen jungen dichter (Requiem for a Young Poet, 1969-69) as his definitive statement, a massive requiem scored for three choruses, soprano and bass soloists, with speaking parts assigned to actors and persons within the chorus, organ, electronic tapes, a jazz combo, and an orchestra of Straussian proportions. Zimmermann originally had planned to limit the words used in the requiem to young poets who had committed suicide -– for example, the revolutionary Soviet poet Vladimir Mayakovsky. Zimmermann ultimately found himself opening up to all kinds of verbal sources in multiple languages; political speeches, passages from the Latin Vulgate, the voices of Chairman Mao, Hitler, and even a snatch of The Beatles’ “Hey Jude.” What Zimmermann constructed in the end was a powerful requiem not just addressed to the ill-fated poets, but to the 20th century as a whole and its crisis of media overload in what is now called “data smog.” However, this work drained Zimmermann completely. “Bernd was a manic depressive,” remembered Gielen, “he was manic when he was composing, but depressive when he had finished. When he slipped into that final depression after the Requiem for a Young Poet, everyone around him knew that he wasn’t going to come out of this one.” Zimmermann had good reason to be upset; he had come in contact with chemical weapons while fighting on the front lines in Russia in 1941 and never fully recovered. By 1969 Zimmermann’s eyesight was failing. After suffering a nervous breakdown and enduring several months of hospitalization, the 52-year old composer took his own life on August 10, 1970.

Bernd Alois ZimmermannAlthough Requiem für einen jungen dichter is referred to in literature about contemporary music as a major achievement, it has nevertheless long remained one masterpiece that nobody could hear. A limited edition LP of the premiere was pressed up and sold as a fundraising item for charity. A CD version of this performance was released at one time by Wergo, but for reason seems impossible to obtain. Working with a consortium of Dutch institutions, including the Dutch Catholic Radio Broadcasting Organization, the Kunststiftung NRW, and others, Cybele Records has produced a stereo multi-channel, surround sound, SACD of the Requiem, drawing from a rare performance given in Haarlem in 2005 and led by conductor Bernhard Kontarsky. One astounding aspect of Requiem für einen jungen dichter is that it hasn’t in the least dated -– the surround sound is terrific in projecting the various voices in the tapes into all the directions Zimmermann intends; speaking voices from tape and live voices from the stage mesh together seamlessly into a dense web of controlled confusion. When the three choruses are all given to yelling at once, the very sound of it sends chills up one’s spine. All of the spoken material is included in the booklet, though this is rendered in print so tiny one may need a magnifying glass. Several score pages are likewise reproduced, plus a diagram of the performance and numerous photographs. Cybele’s effort on behalf of Zimmermann is truly comprehensive and impressive, and restores to 21st century listeners this gigantic work that served as Bernd Zimmermann’s final testament.

For more information on this, and other Cybele releases, visit Cybele Records' website.

Claudia Barainsky, soprano; David Pittman-Jennings, baritone; Michael Rotschopf & Lutz Lansemann, principal speakers; Czech Philharmonic Choir of Brno; Slovak Philharmonic Choir; EuropaChorAkademie; Eric Vloeimans Quintet; Jan Hage, organ; João Rafael, electronics; Bernhard Kontarsky & the Holland Symfonia - Zimmermann: Requiem für einen jungen dichter
Dona Nobis Pacem